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Copenhagen: Crying at the borders of globalisation

Jacob Nielsen cries in an airport – tears for the beauty of open borders, foreign names and exotic flowers.

I have often seen people cry in airports. Sobbing in the common bathrooms, explaining injustice on the telephone and pleading to the employees behind the never-ending line of counters.

Idealising perhaps a more stoic approach to life, I’ve often found these outbreaks a bit exaggerated. I never really tried to understand them. I would mostly just rush to my gate, put the earplugs in.

Even when I was held up on some slow-paced local border-crossing on my travels outside native Europa, even when I missed a flight, I would always tell myself that there is always another flight, another border-crossing.

With this approach to traveling and life in general, you’re bound to be surprised. To have your pre-made explanations of how the world works challenged. Especially when your surroundings start to shake up and behave irrationally because of a global virus.

Photo by Gvantsa Chubinidze

Reviewing the pitiful image of myself crying in Terminal 3, CPH-airport, 13th March, around 9.00 CET, I have tried to track down the trajectory which led me there. In broad lines it looks like this:

1. boy meets girl.

2. boy dances around girl until she accepts relationship-status on facebook.

3. boy goes on several exchange programs to “find himself”, while dutifully pretending long-distance relationships are easy.

4. girl also always wanted to see the world, is a bit braver, seeks destinations further away, goes on exchange to Colombia.

5. boy gets lonely&horny - a most powerful cocktail - and decides to visit her.

6. boy buys ticket - long time ahead, he ain’t that rich - and waits, plans and works around this unproductive time.

7. boy goes to airport to find out flight is empty, to find Colombia getting creative with quarantine quotas, while the proud sending country of Denmark advises all citizens against seeking warmer destinations.

I cried pretty hard. And standing there - backpack on, inflatable pillow round my neck - I felt compassion for all those past public mourners in similar situations, suddenly realising how airports are geographical locations intimately tied to our emotional life, our dreams and future expectations. When one airport closes down, whenever a flight gets cancelled, it messes with our carefully laid out plans, which in turn have the power to trick the so-called endocrine system, releasing hormones to the ocular area.

'... airports are geographical locations intimately tied to our emotional life, our dreams and future expectations.'

This of course only happens in a globalized world where we invest emotions in foreign places we might not even have seen yet. But these shows of disappointment also happen because we tend to take our extremely cosmopolitan lifestyle for granted. I took for granted that the borders and airports are always open, and that Deutsche Lufthansa Aktiengesellschaft would make sure to carry me across the world to cry much happier reuniting-tears upon seeing my girlfriend in El Dorado Luis Carlos Galan Sarmiento International Airport, Bogotá.

My dramatic clash between expectation and reality was also very much a question of being blind to the privileges that allow you to go abroad in the first place. Privileges such as being a EU Citizen; of looking trustworthy in the many racist bureaucratic eyes of this world; and of having the economic standing to even afford a two-week vacation and a transatlantic flight.

Photo by Jacob Nielsen

Sticking to my own recent discovery, the outbreak of the Coronavirus showed me how our ways of moving, thinking and investing emotions internationally are not to be taken for granted. They are possible only when borders remain open, transparent and democratic, which is again very much a political question. I do to some extend understand the need for the current limitations, but this again to me makes the phenomena of open borders all the more beautiful.

(To this political chapter one could also mention the gravity of a problem our young generation is yet to face successfully, the fact that some of us are still struggling to travel less and live as locally as the ever-present climate crises might demand of us (The future will surely judge me for writing this as a parenthesis (I already judge myself))).

'... some of us are still struggling to travel less and live as locally as the ever-present climate crises might demand of us (The future will surely judge me for writing this as a parenthesis (I already judge myself))'

So what to do when you find yourself in an airport deprived of its primary function? What would Obama do? (I have no idea) What would Greta do? (It simply would never happen to her) What would Voltaire, then, do? This most cosmopolitan of thinkers imagined an open world long before our flights even began to map the sky. And after dragging his poor main character Candide through the horrors of the world because of a personal philosophical discussion (which he won), Voltaire let Candide settle down in a small community farm, ending his tales with the famous saying: Il faut cultiver notre jardin. We must cultivate our garden.

So deprived of better and more contemporary things to do, I tried taking his advice. The locally brewed garden-thingy. I travelled the short distance to my parents home in the south of Denmark, thinking of lost embraces and missed tripadviser-rating-opportunities. I stood there looking at the flowers of their garden, slowly breaking through the surface in the Danish equivalent of spring. And found it boring. This can be such a boring place, filled as it is with people who have never tried investing emotions in foreign names.

This story was shared by Jacob Nielsen, a master student in Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen.

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